5 Takeaways From Huge Once-a-Decade Gathering on World’s Protected Areas

National Geographic
21 November 2014

SYDNEY—Must conservation and economic development always be locked in combat, with no hope for one unless the other is suffering?

At the World Parks Congress, a once-a-decade global forum on protected areas that drew more than 6,000 delegates from 170 countries to Australia this week, influential voices argued again and again that the typically opposing forces must be linked in tandem.

Forty percent of the global economy is based on natural resources, so the need to maintain natural capital is a no-brainer, various speakers said.

The theme was introduced by Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, who spoke about the need to move past the old paradigm in remarks at the opening of the eight-day congress.

“Traditionally, protected areas have been seen as the last line of defense against an expanding human footprint,” Steiner told the gathering, which is organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Instead, he said that such places should be seen as the “front line in defining a sustained relationship between humanity and nature.”

Protecting nature has been seen as a tax on economic development, Steiner said, who argued that protected places offer a strong return on investment in terms of social and economic benefits. He cited the example of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which he said costs about $50 million (U.S.) to administer while generating more than $5.2 billion from tourism each year.

Yet very few countries include the economic contributions of protected areas in the decision-making frameworks that drive public and private investments.

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